Sales Reps with Closing Issues

A reader asks, "One of my reps excels at uncovering new deals and filling the top end of the pipeline. But once he's sent a proposal to a prospective client he waits for them to respond rather than being proactive.  Coaching and working closely with him on high-value deals works well until one of us is out or traveling. Then we fall out of sync and lose momentum on his late-stage deals.  I have considered pulling deals away from him and moving them to a solid closer as a split. How can a seasoned sales professional who is exceptional at prospecting and developing new deals be so bad at advancing late-stage deals to close?"

You are far from alone.  My clients continuously tell me their various reps:

  • get through to decision makers with ease, then stall at the product demonstration phase
  • present the product very well then put together a poorly written and priced proposal
  • close effectively when they have a deal to close

What do you do?  Place them on formal written warning?  Turn late-stage deals over to other reps?  Terminate their employment?  Let's look at the possibilities.

Scope of the Problem

Review closed and lost sales for the past few years.  What number and percentage did you assist with?  When working on his own, how many and what percentage did he lose / close? Tally the sales revenue for the different scenarios.  Come to some solid conclusions about the seriousness of the issue.


You've come this far, devoting tremendous time and energy trying to help him close deals.  See it through.  Meet with him to discuss the problem as you see it.  Go over the sales numbers.  Listen to his thoughts and ideas. Remind him of the many skills he possesses to succeed in sales.  Offer your full support. Discuss next steps.

Have him take a sales assessment. Look at the whys and hows of his closing issues.  If the budget allows, arrange for targeted training or coaching specifically around closing.  Otherwise, ask the rep to select a book on closing.  The two of you should read it together and discuss.  

Coaching versus Enabling

You've worked with him to close many deals and he still cannot close on his own.  He either isn't listening or has become dependent on you.   As a manager, you need to make some changes as well.

When discussing potential deals, get him to tell you what he plans to say and do.  If he hesitates say something like, "This seems similar to the Smith Company sale from last year. What were the president's objections? How did you finalize that deal?"

Start pulling back.  Before accompanying him on sales calls, remind him that you are there to support him.  He must close the deal.  Resist the urge to jump in and close it yourself.

What Next?

Should training and/or coaching fail to turn his performance around, you have two alternatives to consider.

Alternative #1

You could create a position for this rep that focuses primarily on identifying and working opportunities to an agreed point in the sales cycle. This approach requires you have another rep or reps take those deals from that point forward and get them closed.

Taking this path would require assessing the strengths of your other salespeople, altering the sales process to manage the hand-offs (both for this salesperson and others), and adjusting quotas and compensation to accommodate the changing workload for the entire staff.

You'll need to review the consequences of making the change either with a trusted adviser (if you're the boss) or with the boss (if you're not) before moving forward with the plan.  Be sure it's worth all the trouble. The rep in question might quit, or the hybrid position may not work for the other salespeople.

Alternative #2

The second alternative involves putting the salesperson on a performance improvement plan as a prelude to moving him out of the organization. Tell him that to continue to have the title and privileges of a salesperson, he must meet or surpass sales quotas consistently and take potential deals from a cold call through to close. Failure to do so in a time period you specify will result in his being terminated.

Whether you choose the first or the second alternative depends on how good they are at everything but closing, and how much you want to navigate around their weakness. Contrary to popular myths, sales managers should not close sales for reps, save the occasional high-level, particularly complex deal.  The stress involved in "carrying" this rep makes him dependent on you and leaves you depleted for your other reps and responsibilities.